Lake Stevens woman sues police over home search
Lake Stevens police officer is named in a civil-rights lawsuit alleging police searched a woman’s home for hours before obtaining a warrant.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A Lake Stevens woman has filed a civil-rights lawsuit alleging police barged into her home without a warrant, and held her and her infant for nearly seven hours while they went through every room in her home.
One of the officers involved, Steve Warbis, has a troubled history with the department, including a 2011 incident that cost the city $100,000 earlier this year to settle a lawsuit alleging he forced his way into a home without a warrant and roughly arrested a man over a day-old traffic confrontation.
In May 2012, in a separate incident, Warbis was shot in the forehead with a Taser fired by a civilian during a barroom brawl.
According to the latest lawsuit, Warbis and a police detective were investigating the theft of a portable generator. The owner of the generator told them he thought he had seen the missing generator advertised on Craigslist by Janet Moreno-Toro, according to one of her lawyers, Justin Monro.
Warbis and the detective recruited the owner to contact Moreno-Toro to inspect the generator for sale on a pretext and secretly record its serial number. The owner went into the home, obtained the numbers, then returned to the officers, according to the lawsuit.
Warbis then allegedly told the man to call 911 and report the stolen property, the lawsuit alleges.
The detective, a police sergeant and several others then showed up and forced their way into the home.
Monro said Moreno-Toro, 38, has no criminal history and had owned and lived in the home for 14 years. She was home tending to a sick infant, the lawsuit says.
She had purchased the generator from a pawnshop, the lawyer said, and did not know it was stolen.
According to the lawsuit, Moreno-Toro repeatedly told the officers to leave and, at one point, even called 911 herself to report she was “being harassed by the cops” and that police were searching her home without a warrant.
Moreno-Toro said she was kept out of her house initially for more than four hours, with officers explaining they needed to "clear the residence” for officer-safety purposes. Later in the afternoon, officers arrived with a search warrant and spent three more hours in the home.
All the while, Moreno-Toro was kept out of the home with a sick child, her lawyers claim. Police went through her bedroom, her personal belongings, the bathroom and basement without cause, she claims.
Monro, the attorney, said he does not know what happened to the generator, which police apparently took. Moreno-Toro was not charged or arrested.
The lawsuit alleges the officers should have obtained a warrant before entering her home. It also claims that exceptions that allow police to forego a warrant — such as existence of an emergency or the possibility evidence might be destroyed — were not present.
Telephone messages to the police department, the Lake Stevens city administrator’s office and the city’s lawyers were not returned.
Last January, the city paid a Lake Stevens couple $100,000 to settle their claim against Warbis and another officer after they entered the couple’s yard and home without a warrant and arrested the homeowner for a traffic violation Warbis had witnessed while off-duty the day before.
The plaintiff, Brandon Fenter, was taken roughly to the kitchen floor and arrested in front of his family after Warbis had earlier threatened to give him a ticket for driving recklessly.
In May 2012, Warbis was shot in the forehead with a Taser during an off-duty barroom scuffle.
The department ordered him to undergo training for his communications skills after the two incidents, according to news reports.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3706
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.